Ask A Veterinarian: My Cat Has Been Diagnosed with Kidney Disease. What Comes Next?

By Dr. Genie Bishop

Did you know 30 percent of cats over 15 years old are affected by kidney (or renal) disease?1 Knowing your cat has renal disease may leave you feeling hopeless, but if you manage it appropriately,  you can help improve the quality of your cat’s life. So let’s dive in to understand a bit more about renal disease.

How Does a Cat Get Kidney Disease?

 Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a common condition in older cats. It’s a normal part of aging for the functioning units of the kidneys (the nephrons) to stop working. But when too many nephrons stop working, your cat’s kidneys become unable to filter blood and move waste products from the blood into the urine.  As a result, certain substances can build up in her body and not only make her feel bad but further damage her kidneys.

While it’s not uncommon for older cats to start showing signs of kidney disease, younger cats can be affected by CKD as well. Most of the time, the cause is unknown, but occasionally your veterinarian can determine whether it is due to hereditary disease or a kidney infection or even by ingesting something toxic, like antifreeze or lilies. The following clinical signs are common among cats with CKD:

  • Poor appetite
  • Depression
  • Listlessness
  • Weakness
  • Increased urination
  • Increased thirst
  • Vomiting
  • Bad breath (may even smell like ammonia)

Since these signs can be caused by many diseases, including CKD, your veterinarian will perform some laboratory tests to confirm the diagnosis.

What Can I Do to Help My Cat?

Unfortunately, CKD is irreversible. That said, while the damage can’t be reversed, there are ways to help manage it, improve your cat’s quality of life and hopefully extend it. 

First, your cat NEEDS to eat. She probably won’t feel up to it, but it’s essential that she does, so she can get the nutrients she needs to live. Your veterinarian may recommend a special diet with lowered amounts of protein and phosphorus, because this could help her feel better and slow the progression of the disease. Next, she needs to have plenty of fresh water available, because renal disease can result in dehydration. Also, try to keep her routine as stress-free as possible to allow her to rest, eat and drink.

Visit your Vet

If your cat exhibits any of the clinical signs listed above, be sure to talk to your veterinarian. He or she can discuss the best treatment plan with you. Follow his or her diet recommendations and, of course, if signs worsen, notify your veterinarian as soon as possible.

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1. Korman R. “Chronic kidney disease (CKD) – aetiology, diagnosis, and staging.”  Proceedings, International Society of Feline Medicine, Asia-Pacific Congress 2014.

Dr. Genie Bishop is the Scientific  Communications Manager for Royal Canin Veterinary Marketing. Prior to that, she was in private practice for 30 years as well as serving as an instructor of medicine and surgery in a veterinary technician program.